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Summer study of monarch migration

September 18, 2013 - Clarkston resident John Meyland has spent his summer looking for the monarch butterfly so he can catch it and place a sticker on its wing.

He is participating in the 2013 22nd fall season of the Monarch Watch tagging study conducted by the University of Kansas. According to Monarch Watch, the tagging efforts contribute to a greater understanding of the dynamics of the Monarch population.

After catching a monarch, Meyland identifies the sex , writes down where he caught it and where it was he released. After the season is over, he will mail the sheet in so the information can be recorded at the university and entered into the study.

Each year, the Michigan monarch population heads off to the mountains of Mexico- the impressive journey is the longest insect migration on earth.

"They leave Canada and the northern United States in August and September and travel 2,000 miles to an area west of Mexico City. They live in the mountains in Mexico in the trees," said Meyland. "They go there and huddle together to stay warm."

Meyland said while Michigan butterflies head to Mexico, any butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains head to California.

In the study, the butterflies are caught and tagged with a sticker with identifying information. Later if they are found the information from the tag is entered into the university website so researchers can see where the butterfly came from, how far it traveled and other important information.

Tagging the butterflies is important to monitor the monarch population, and helps to educate the public and lawmakers about things that negatively impact the population, which Meyland said has been lower in 2013 than in previous years.

The study also helps promote conservation efforts. Debbie Jackson said the monarch population is 5-10 percent less than the population 20-years-ago.

Spring conditions, such as cooler weather and erratic weather patterns in some parts of the country has not helped the monarch population rebound from their smaller numbers in previous years.

Cooler temperatures also stager the proper growth of the butterfly and leaves them more vulnerable to predators. Habitat loss, herbicides and pesticides hinders the population which already faces an uphill battle with only five percent of the species reaching adulthood.

Other conditions that effect the monarch population is a loss of milkweeds, a food source for caterpillars. Genetically modified and herbicide tolerant corn and soybeans also negatively effects the insect population.

Although the life of a monarch is short lived at only about seven to nine months, it is also very active considering their long journey is such an impressive feat filled with numerous perils. The tag placed on their wings causes a seven percent reduction in flight, said Meyland.

"August and September is when they begin their long journey south."

In August during a Monarch Festival in Davisburg, visitors could learn how to tag the butterflies and record the data to later see if it migrated to Mexico.

According to a Clarkston News story written about the Davisburg Monarch Festival, the journey to Mexico takes six to nine weeks as they travel thousands of miles to their destination.

Butterflies released in the study are either caught in the wild or raised on farms.

For more information about the monarch butterfly or the study visit

Staff writer
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